Alien Encounters: Crocus Fields Sound Installation at Nottingham Contemporary: Digital Participatory Performance

The Crocus Fields Outreach Service offers short interventions for disabled young people. Participants involved were a small group of young people with additional needs, who predominantly had autism and some of whom were non-verbal. The visits also included committed support workers already engaged in creating unique learning experiences – from social learning to the arts.

The workshops were delivered at Nottingham Contemporary in the Studio.

The series of workshops I designed coincided with recent Alien Encounters exhibition at Nottingham Contemporary and were driven by a connection to performance and dialogue.




The workshops culminated in a generative sound installation. The idea for the piece came from a wish to enable the group a platform for sharing interactions with the gallery space itself. As an artist with a background in architecture and performance I wanted to share some of my interests in how the body can communicate with architectural spaces, in a way that acknowledged some of the observations I have already made through working with the young people. I have observed that two of the participants in the group use sensory interactions as a way of reading environments, one participant smells the skin of his support worker another uses her body to ground herself in busy spaces. These are not random observations, I am aware of their space in autistic behaviours. As an advocate of social models of disability and as an artist interested in creating participatory experiences that are developed from the existing skills of participants I am reading these behaviours as ways of communicating with the world that hold potential for interesting artistic performance encounters for both the group participants and neurotypical participants invited to share the work. Or to put it another way I recently worked on a project with the acclaimed choreographer Joe Moran, who instilled an idea (or provocation) in me from the practitioner Deborah Hay, ‘let your body be your teacher’. What is genuinely exciting for me is that the participants from Crocus Fields are already there – using their body as their teacher.

This work was in part inspired by an extract screened at Nottingham Contemporary in Mark Leckey’s exhibition ‘The Universal Addressability of Dumb Things’ , ‘In My Language’  by Amanda Baggs;


The interesting tectonic qualities of the gallery became again in this project a site for enabling confidence of usage of the gallery space. Participants were invited to explore the gallery building surfaces physically, we recorded sounds (hitting surfaces with sticks –thinking of textures), and we collected images and experimented with projection. The resulting files – images and audio created a working document of our journey through the space. They spoke of bodily reactions with surfaces, but they allowed a new dialogue and ordering as they were separated from the time and space that generated them. These collected files were used to create an installation that invited new bodies to curate the sequence of the journeys. Sounds were selected by the participants and programmed into the flooring. Images of floors, walls, staircases, balustrades where sounds were gathered were selected by participants, experimented with and projected into the space.

The installation and the journey of the collection of sounds and images that informed it were a celebration of allowing bodies to communicate with the environment – partially unencumbered by the social expectations of how we should react to the gallery building . A teacher involved with the project Claire Edis describes this perfectly;

“What a difference it makes to them being allowed to be led by their body’s reaction to their environment instead of having to follow and understand rules”.

As a group we interacted with the piece determining bodily responses.

The work was shared with staff from Nottingham Contemporary, who were invited to interact with the piece physically, activating the installation. The work raised some interesting questions;

We touch things to know them better, but what happens when we share these interactions without the objects?

Is it possible to share alternative methods of communicating?


Other activities across four workshops included; exploring characters with costume and making a promenade performance through the gallery space, visiting the gallery exhibition spaces, sound stories and space animations using an overhead projector.

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